Video footage and photos depicting Ferguson, Mo., police acting more like soldiers on the battlefield has catalyzed a national debate over the role of military hardware in local law enforcement. But while Kansas cops have received everything from grenade launchers to mine-resistant armored vehicles, few — if any — have an issue with it.
“I don’t have any drawbacks,” Brian Fenner, Sheridan County sheriff, said of the federal 1033 program. “I think it’s a good program. It helps the counties with low budgets, they can acquire some equipment that’s needed in our rural areas.”
Fenner’s agency benefited from the federal program in a number of ways, its most high-profile acquisition a pair of M-79 grenade launchers the sheriff’s office got in the 1990s. Fenner told Kansas Watchdog the office asked for them strictly as a backup to existing 37-mm tear gas guns, but they’ve never been used.
Still more impressive, and intimidating, equipment has been distributed to other law enforcement agencies in Kansas. Sheriff Randy Rogers of Coffey County said last fall his office received a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle — better known as an MRAP — because of its unique proximity to Kansas’ Wolf Creek Nuclear Power Plant.
“The MRAP gives us the ability to fulfill certain requirements that I cannot disclose concerning the nuclear plant,” Rogers said. “Our citizens understand our commitment to the nuclear plant and know that there come certain obligations with the nuclear plant.”
Pentagon data compiled by the Detroit Free Press, as well as information provided by the State of Kansas through an open records request, sheds light on the true breadth of military-grade hardware in the hands of local cops. From armored vehicles to thousands of firearms, the nation’s recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have left local police forces well-equipped.
But Holly Weatherford, advocacy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, said it doesn’t come without a price.
“We’re definitely seeing the flow of weapons from the (U.S.) Department of Defense to local law enforcement in Kansas, and what we do know is that militarization makes communities less safe, and it undermines individual liberty,” she told Kansas Watchdog.
Weatherford pointed to an ACLU report released in June detailing the increasingly-militarized response of law enforcement across the country in the form of SWAT raids encouraged by the acquisition of military equipment. According to the ACLU, “(n)early 80 percent of the SWAT raids the ACLU studied were conducted to serve search warrants, usually in drug cases.”
“It destroys peoples’ homes, it terrifies people and it undermines public safety,” she noted.
Read more at Watchdog.org.
By Melissa Smith | From Watchdog.org
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